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For The Country Music Industry, The Subject Of Donald Trump Is Kryptonite

Mar 7, 2017

The man’s face is shrouded by shadows, but the silhouette is unmistakable: comb-over hairdo, thick neck, beefy red power tie. Two fists, bronzed and engorged like mylar balloons, pump skyward from a podium in a pugilistic dominance display. The reign of the 45th US president, as depicted in a music video released late last month by the outsider country artist Sturgill Simpson, is short-lived. It ends in an act of left-wing wish-fulfillment, with a boy in a cape destroying both the podium and a massive, barbed border wall, allowing a procession of brown-skinned immigrants to march into golden light.

The video, for Simpson’s ballad “All Around You,” was released the week after his dark horse triumph at the Grammy Awards (where he took home Best Country Album and performed during the telecast), and marked the latest in a series of provocations from a seasoned country music disrupter. But it was especially notable in another context, increasing by one the small club of country artists who have explicitly addressed the presidency of Donald Trump either in speech or in their art.

Margo Price, a fixture, like Simpson, on Nashville’s progressive-minded perimeters, dedicated a performance of her acid-tongued single “About to Find Out” to the president-elect the day after the election (sample lyric: “You have many people fooled about your motivation, but I don’t believe your lies”). And on Twitter, famously self-styled singers Jason Isbell and Kacey Musgraves have jabbed at Trump and his cabinet.

Meanwhile, on the vocally pro-Trump end of the spectrum are country artists like the middle-tier whiskey-and-women enthusiast Justin Moore (“I like the fact that [Trump] evokes a sense of winning, you know?”) and mop-headed jester Chris Janson, as well as a cross-section of conservative elder statesmen including Charlie DanielsRonnie Dunnthe Oak Ridge Boys, and Kenny Rogers.

But between these two poles is a vast middle ground, inhabited by virtually every mainstream contemporary superstar in country music. Of the 87 artists currently on either Billboard’s Top Country Albums or Hot Country Songs charts, only five (Simpson, Moore, Janson, Maren Morris, and the Brothers Osborne) have gone on the record with a clearly favorable or unfavorable opinion of Trump or his policy proposals from the beginning of the 2016 campaign to the time of this posting, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News.